As I peek my head around the corner and look down to the end of the dark hallway I’m able to see what made the noise. From the bedroom emerges a little girl. She’s got a blanket in one hand and her favourite stuffy gripped tight to her body with the other. Her hair is dishevelled; a mess that only a sleeping toddler could make.
When she spots me, she shuffles down the hallway with purpose. Without making any eye contact, she presses her body up close against my leg while I finish brushing my teeth. She waits for me and doesn’t move.
Stacey has been out of town on a mom getaway-planning-shopping retreat for the past couple of nights. I’m not sure why this particular child is up at this particular point of the night, but I know we’re all a little zapped from the feeling of just not having mom around.
I finish brushing my teeth and begin the inquisition.
‘Why are you up? Are you scared? Did something happen? Do you need to use the toilet? Are you thirsty? Do you feel sick?’
No answer. No eye contact. Just pressing against me and hugging my leg. No words.
We’ve All Got Questions
We all have questions we’d like answers to. But sometimes the questions we have of God can be the scariest to ask: we want to be reverential, not blasphemous. What if the question offends God?
More than that, deep-down we can be kind of afraid that there is no answer. What would that mean for our faith?
For some, the persistent presence of questions unasked has been a catalyst to their rejecting or abandoning of the Christian faith all together. That need not be so. In fact, the people in the Bible — those God uses to write his very word! — often asked the toughest questions of all.
Have you read them?
I’m slowly learning that my heart is too easily affected by all the wrong things, yet it remains stubbornly hard precisely where I need it to be soft.
I’m slowly learning that after 32 years, I still don’t know myself nearly as well as I should.
I’m slowly learning that I don’t have nearly the platform with people that I once thought I did; an authoritative voice is earned over the long haul.
I’m slowly learning that the louder I speak on peripheral issues, the quieter my voice becomes when calling people to the centre.
I’m slowly learning that I’m not nearly the husband, dad, friend, pastor, or Christian that I thought I would be by now.
I’m slowly learning that what I want my life & ministry to be characterized by when I’m 74 needs to be what characterizes my life & ministry now.
I’m slowly learning that it is possible to idolize good things like unity and peace; and also that joy quickly turns to rage when those idols are toppled.
I’m slowly learning that very few people in the wold are called to be ‘the voice in the wilderness.’ Probably far fewer than evangelicalism — myself included — currently recognizes.
I’m slowly learning that praying for something doesn’t mean that I’m actually believing God can and will act.
Horoscope vs. Bible
Have you ever wondered how it is that some people seem to be so intrigued by their horoscope? I think we all know at least a few coworkers, friends, family members, or neighbours who interpret all of life’s events through Zodiac signs. It’s weird, right?
But they get so excited to read the horoscope! They are eager to read it because they really want to find out what their future (and everyone else’s future) seems to have in store. And they really believe they’ll find out here.
The sad thing, to me, isn’t just that they’re reading these fanciful, generic, basically-could-apply-to-anyone, type predictions. What’s actually sad is that they are more excited about reading the horoscopes (and seem to benefit from reading them more) than some Christians are about reading the Bible.
But the Bible is the inspired Word of God! How could this be?
Reading with Expectation
Someone might answer that it’s hard to benefit from reading the Bible because it is harder to understand. That may be true, in part. But there are lots of easy articles and books devoted to helping you understand the Bible, and many great study Bibles that you can take advantage of as well. Understanding doesn’t have to be (and typically isn’t) the issue.
I think the difference is faith. Expectation. Anticipation. Hope. The difference between horoscope readers and Bible readers, much of the time, is that horoscope readers, sadly, often read with more faith. They genuinely believe that something in those pages will make a difference in their life.
Optimism: “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.”
Was the Apostle Paul an optimist? For a guy who taught a lot about the depravity of the human heart, Paul sure seemed to take a pretty rosey view of life sometimes, didn’t he?
A ‘Church-is-Half-Full’ Kind of View?
Here’s a case in point: The church in Corinth. They were divided and dividing still, they valued fancy speech over sound doctrine, they had cases of publicly known immorality that were not being addressed, they were suing each other, they were leaving betrothed women unprovided for, fighting over food sacrificed to idols, arguing over whose spiritual gifts made them the most spiritually mature, leading chaotic worship services, and considering denying the resurrection. Seriously. And you thought your church was bad!
But think about how Paul addresses them:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift… (1 Cor 1.4-6)
That sure sounds like a very optimistic, ‘glass-half-full’ kind of view of the church, doesn’t it? Is he just flattering them?
The furthest thing from being an optimist who chooses to ‘look on the more favorable side of events’ or a double-tongued flatterer who dabbles in deceit, Paul is speaking the truth boldly. He has something greater than optimism when it comes to the Corinthian church — as messed up as it is. Paul has hope. God-grounded, gospel-believing hope.
So, today is beautiful. It’s warm, sunny, not oppressively hot… and perhaps best of all, it’s Friday. How awesome is that? I should be happy, right?
That’s what struck me today around lunch time as I was walking to the school to pick up one of my daughters: I should be very happy. But as I thought about the disposition of my heart I found something quite different: I was sad. I wasn’t depressed or angry, and I wasn’t ready to weep or break down. There was just a kind of low-grade sad, disappointed mindset that was colouring all my thoughts and interactions.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I began to question myself in the fashion of Psalm 42-43:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 43.5)
What’s cool about this question is that it is actually drawing out the reasons for sadness, while at the same time challenging those reasons for sadness with timeless truth: God reigns, he saves, and I will praise him into the future. So in light of the truth that was (I’ve praised him before), the truth that is (he is still my salvation and my God), and the truth that will be (I will praise him again), are my reasons for sadness still justified?
In his excellent teaching on the meaning of faith, J.I. Packer tackles the age-old question of how justification by faith alone results in anything other than spiritual sloth and antinomianism. He writes the following:
Faith abandons hope in man’s own accomplishments, leaves all works behind, and comes to Christ alone and empty-handed, to cast itself on mercy. Such is the faith that saves.
But does this mean that saving faith throws a halo over idleness, and that the gospel of justification by faith only is really hostile to moral endeavour? Indeed not. ‘Faith is a lively thing,’ wrote Luther, ‘mighty in working, valiant and strong, ever doing, ever fruitful; so that it is impossible that he who is endued therewith should not work always good works without ceasing … for such is his nature.’
What saves is faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone; it is always ‘working through love (Gal. 5:6), becoming a moral dynamic of unparalleled power in the believer’s life. The proof that a man’s faith is real is precisely this — that it makes him work. How does it do this? By making him feel the constraint of Christ’s love for him, and the greatness of the debt of gratitude which he owes to his God. As we said once before, Christian doctrine is grace, and Christian conduct is gratitude. The believer does not do what he does as a means to being justified, but there are no limits to what he will do for his Lord out of gratitude for the justification that he has received.